Theatre Club – A discussion of performance at Cambridge Junction
By Maddy Costa
It’s a Tuesday night at Cambridge Junction and two women have emerged from the main theatre disappointed and perplexed.
They’ve just watched the new show by Figs in Wigs, which they were looking forward to enormously, having loved the anarchic wit of the company’s previous work.
But this show they couldn’t get on with – it felt obscure, distant with in-jokes yet insistently pessimistic. On an ordinary night, in an ordinary theatre, these women might have shared a quick commiserating drink before taking their dismay home.
But this particular night, the Junction was hosting Theatre Club, an informal post-show conversation for audience members to share what they thought about a performance, and ask a broader group the questions that watching it has raised for them.
At Theatre Club, the women’s disappointment soon transformed: they appreciated different aspects of the show through discussing what they had noticed and hearing what others had noticed in turn; and while it didn’t make them like the show any better, the dialogue did reveal some cheering new perspectives.
Within an hour, a dismal evening had become one of discovery and pleasure.
At this point I should confess: my observations of Theatre Club are somewhat biased. I host the event, lightly and without assumption or authority – as much as anyone else who attends, I bring a genuine, unbridled interest in what other people think about the performance we’re discussing.
But the story I’ve told isn’t exaggerated for effect; it’s typical and indicative of what happens at Theatre Club, and why it matters.
For Matt Burman, artistic director at Cambridge Junction, “one of the essential qualities of a work of art is that it can elicit a broad spectrum of emotional response: while one person might laugh, another might cry”.
He wants Junction audiences “to feel confident in expressing their thoughts about a show in an environment that is safe, welcoming and unjudgemental”.
This is all the more important given that “our curatorial mission is to programme work that lingers and disrupts – shows that might change how we see the world around us”.
Without doubt the Junction bar is safe and welcoming, but what of the person who has come to the theatre alone? Who can they express their thoughts to?
On another night at the Junction, I hosted a Theatre Club for Beginnings by Bert and Nasi, a dance piece involving local people in their 60s and older.
One woman, in her 40s, came to Theatre Club because she had seen the show alone and, though she had enjoyed it, found it perplexing.
We were joined by several teenagers from a local sixth form who were buzzing with ideas about what they’d seen.
As we exchanged thoughts on growing up, care, trying and failing, the woman realised how much she had gleaned from the show – emotionally, if not cognitively.
Movingly, one of the teens suggested that our conversation was itself a new beginning: the first time they had had a conversation with adults who weren’t family or teachers, as almost-adults themselves.
By bringing people together across all sorts of differences – age, ethnicity, gender, religion, life experience, all of which shift the perspective of each person watching a performance – Theatre Club provides a space not much evident in a time of polarised public debate.
Inspired by Burman’s programming of “often very new, avowedly contemporary” work that might not have been reviewed very much, we gather to discuss not just the show itself but the range of political issues alluded to on stage: climate change, migrant experiences, racism, transphobia and more.
The hope is always that people can engage with different ideas by listening to each other.
From Burman’s perspective, making space for audience conversation supports the Junction’s desire to “help people be confident in their curiosity.
“We believe that any response is valid, that there are no questions you couldn’t think about or express a view on.”
Expressing and listening: these are the basic activities of Theatre Club. And it’s needed, I believe, because it gives people access to a wider spectrum of thought – which itself has potential to change how we see the world around us.
Theatre Club will be at Cambridge Junction on Tuesday, 6 February, Wednesday, 20 March, and Wednesday, 1 May, and is free to attend with a pay-what-you-feel ticket to the show.
For more information, visit junction.co.uk.